A hot summer night was perfect for a cold drink. Sitting at a seat in front of a ramen cart, Madrame patiently waited for his order to be cooked as he slowly drank beer from his glass.
"Hey Hato, have you ever seen Kuji-Un?"
"Kuji-Un?" Hato was wearing in a simple, white one-piece dress with fluffs around the sleeves and neckline, covered by a short tan coat that was left open down the middle. His wig and make-up, while a bit on the heavy side, made it very difficult to tell that this boy was anything other than a beautiful lady. To anyone looking on at the scene, it would have seemed like a normal date between a man and his girlfriend.
"Ah, I mean Kujibiki Unbalance," Madarame said, swirling the liquid in his glass as he watched ramen cart operator skillfully cut the dough into strings of noodles.
Hato nodded, taking a sip of his drink. Unlike his friend beside him, he had decided to drink soda instead.
"I have seen an episode before, but it was years ago."
"That's so?" Madarame nodded his head, as if reaffirming the statement to himself. "That's so."
"Why do you ask?"
Madarame was quiet for a few moments, sipping his drink as his gaze seemed to drift far off past the ramen cart. Just when Hato was starting to get worried, Madarame finally spoke up.
"It used to be my favorite anime. In Genshiken, we always used to have discussions about it." Madarame smiled wistfully at the memory. "There was a character in it that I really liked."
"Oh?" Hato smiled encouragingly. "Which one was it?"
"Her name was Ritsuko Kubel Kettenkrad. A half-German girl. She was the President of the Student Council."
Hato's smile faded as his memories drifted to the pictures he had found of Saki's cosplay in Madarame's apartment. A sinking feeling entered his stomach.
"She wears a large helmet, right?" Hato asked slowly.
"Yeah, I'm surprised you remembered." Madarame gave a melancholy-filled smirk, setting down his nearly empty glass. "I can't ever forget her."
Hato stared at his half-full glass. Was Madarame talking about Saki? He wanted to say something—anything—but it felt like something would break inside of him if he did so he remained silent.
"You're probably wondering why I asked you here."
Silence. The distant chirping of crickets could easily be heard above the boiling of the ramen pots.
"Well, you see," Madarame began, the atmosphere somehow becoming much tenser than it was moments before. "Ohno wanted to gather all of the former and current Genshiken members for a cosplay party next weekend."
Hato nodded. Oguie had told the club about it a few days ago.
"And well, I heard that you haven't decided on a costume yet."
Hato nodded again. It was something he was more than a bit embarrassed about, but now, it didn't really seem that important of an issue anymore.
"Tanaka was in a rush and asked me what you would want to wear so I, um, told him to…to make a costume of the President from Kuji-Un." Seeing the surprised look on Hato's face, Madarame quickly added, "Ah, but you don't need to wear it if you don't want to! You don't have to pay for anything—"
Hato placed a finger on Madarame's lip, stopping his rant. By this time, the former Genshiken president's face was flushed with embarrassment, yet the next few words made his heart skip a beat.
"I would love to."
A splash of water.
The sound of a running faucet filled Hato's ears, blocking out the mild cries of disobedient children that came through the bathroom window. His make-up remover was left, discarded by the side of the sink. The drain had greedily sucked down the cosmetics that once adorned his face.
Night dictated this transformation, unraveling the layers that covered his skin. The mirror in front of him stood ominously, like a truthful judge. What reflected back at him under the gleam of the florescent lights was a boyish face. Not a man's face, but that of a young boy. If one were to look only at his face, they might think that he was a high schooler or even a middle school student.
"What am I doing?"
The face that reflected back at him was that of a beautiful woman. Naked, but with a featureless body. A distinctly female body.
Is it so wrong?
"Yes," Hato said bluntly, agonizingly.
I think it's fine.
"Shut up." Hato took a small towel off a rack and began wiping his face. "You don't exist."
I think I exist so it's fine, isn't it?
Hato sighed and put the towel back on the rack. What was he supposed to say to that?
Madarame turned on the light in his darkened apartment, watching as the overhead lamp sparked to life and chased away the shadows. It was dinky place to live in, having only a separate room for the bathroom and kitchen. Every possession of his had been stuffed in here, crammed to the brink.
Normally, this would be a messy place with figurines lying about on top of piles of discarded manga and anime DVD boxes. Each item was a memoir of his days at the university, when he had almost religiously bought items of his hobby even at the expense of his own health, something which he couldn't do anymore due to his responsibilities as a working adult.
Now, however, all of the mangas and DVDs were neatly compiled on the shelves and the figurines were clustered together on top of the bookshelves, each seeming to accentuate previously unremarkable features of each other. It was neat and clean, something that wasn't usual in the places he lived in. The last time he could remember his room being so organized was back when he lived with his parents.
All of this had been the work of Hato, and he knew that if he took an item out, that boy would clean it up later for him.
Madarame was loathed to mess with the set-up anyways. It wasn't just that he didn't want to impose on another's kindness, but it felt instinctively wrong to do so.
Stepping lightly over the carpet, Madrame made his way to the kitchen and took out a cold can of beer out of the fridge. So preoccupied was his mind at dinner that he didn't really get a chance to have his fill of alcohol, so one more couldn't hurt.
He sauntered back to the living room and put his unopened can on the table. Reaching behind one of the shelves, he took out a large envelope that had been taped to the back. As his eyes glanced over the white folds, his expression softened.
But there was something missing.
He placed the envelope down gently besides his beer can and walked over to the closet. Inside, a bunch of his clothes were on hangers, especially his business suits, but he shoved those aside. Behind them was a stack of boxes which he carefully began to remove and put on the ground to the side. When he finally reached the bottom box, he pulled it out of the closet and dragged it to the middle of the room.
The cardboard box itself was unlabeled, but he was familiar enough with it and its contents that he didn't need to check.
Madarame sat down and leaned against the side of his bed. Taking the beer can off the nearby table, he popped it opened and took a quick sip. The refreshing taste filled him with a sort of melancholy as he held the envelope in his hands.
Sliding the lapse opened, he took out a small stack of photos.
Wearing the cosplay of Ritsuko Kubel Kettenkrad, Saki embodied even the essence of the President in her appearance and personality.
Madrame smirked derisively at himself. It didn't begin there, but it came to a boiling point at that event. It was ironic. Kousaka was the reason he would never try for Saki, but he was also the reason why Madarame came to know Saki. It would have been unlikely that he would have met Saki any other way.
Maybe it would have been better that way; to never meet her, and simply pass her by, thinking that she was just another shallow girl. Never knowing what love—or was this simply a crush—felt like. Just dreaming of 2D girls like other otakus.
He spread the photos out over the top of the box.
"Hah, I'm really pathetic." Madarame's head flopped backwards and he poured the alcohol down his throat. Even with his eyes closed, he could still see every picture in perfect detail. The contours of the figure, outlined by the form-fitting costume; the suppleness of her skin in the few exposed sections; and the beautiful, entrancing smile that didn't exist in the pictures.
A smile that never existed on Saki.
Madarame's head shot up, glancing around frantically. When he didn't find anyone besides himself in the room, he slowly settled down as confusion sank in.
"Huh? Who was I looking for?" Picking up his beer can with a slightly shaking hand, he drank the bitter-sweet brew. "Maybe I'm just too tired today."
Without bothering to put anything away, Madarame rolled onto the bed, stopping when his back was pressed against the mattress.
He stared upward, seeking resolution and vindication for his troubles. The overhead lamp stared back, impassive and unimpressed.
With the morning came the start of a brand new day. For Hato, that wasn't anything new. Not that there were many who could say otherwise. Yet, the conflicts of yesterday seemed far away under the sun's renewing rays.
Rising from his bed, he stretched out his arms and welcomed the warming light of the sun. Now, under the glow of the quiet light that filtered through his window, the plainness of the room was much more obvious. White walls, decorated with nothing except a lone calendar. In one corner was a large cabinet, fastened closed by a chain secured by a lock with a key combination.
Walking over to it, he touched the sturdy door of the cabinet, sliding a slender finger over its wood-painted surface. The smooth, polished finish ensured that his fingertips met no resistance. People would think it's strange that he felt so loving about such an object, but this cabinet had held his secrets for years, from the turbulent days of high school to the bright new beginning of his university years. From the first time he had set eyes on it on a street corner, waiting sadly to go up in smoke with all the rest of the burnable garbage, it had been his sanctuary.
With a blissful smile, Hato spun the combination in and swung open his treasure trove. Inside was his entire collection of BL doujinshi as well as female articles of clothing. In one corner was a hand bag, filled with all the essential make-up that he would need. He would hide everything in his backpack until it was time to meet in the Genshiken club room.
"I will do my best today."
With the coming of morning came…a headache.
Madarame slapped a palm to his forehead to hold off the aching headache when he felt the cold rims of his glasses. He blinked, fingering the handles. Was he so out of it last night that he went to sleep with his glasses on?
Ugh. Whatever. Turning his head to the side, he looked at his alarm clock. His gaze was steady for a moment before his eyes widened when the numbers didn't disappear.
He was late!
Stumbling to his feet, he rushed forward only to trip over a box, scattering the photos that were laid on top of it.
"Damn it." Madarame didn't have time for this. As much as he wanted to make sure his photos were alright, he didn't want to be late. He would just have to clean it up when he got back after work.
He took a few steps before he froze and took a few steps backwards. Hato was going to be here before then. Grimacing, he went down to his knees and started scooping up the photos into a pile with the entirety of his arms. Opening the closet, he shoved the pile of photos into it. He wouldn't be able to put the box away now, but Hato wasn't the type to look into anything that was closed.
Standing to his feet, he was glad that he was still dressed in his formal clothes. While it was a bit wrinkled, that would have to do. Stopping by the bathroom for a quick grooming and some mouthwash, he headed out of the apartment.
The afternoon sun was swelteringly hot. Unlike the coolness of the morning sun, there was something vindictive in the afternoon's heated glare. Fumbling with the keys for a moment, Hato finally found the correct one and unlocked the apartment. His nose wrinkled slightly at the smell of alcohol within, but he ignored it as he switched on the light.
At least he now knew what was making that smell.
Abandoned on a desk was an opened beer can, the lips dry enough to show that it had been left out to stale for quite a while. Other than that and a cardboard box in the middle of the room, the room seemed relatively the same as always. Closing the door and locking it behind him, he headed past the bundle and opened the window, letting in some much needed air.
Well, not really. There was not much wind in the summer and most of the initial scent had already gone out when he first opened the door. Or perhaps, he had already gotten used to it.
Hato took the beer can and tossed it into the trash before tying the trash bag up; he planned to throw it all away on the corner of the street on his way to the club.
Genshiken was going to start soon so he had better hurry. He headed into the bathroom and gently shut the door behind him.
With the darkening sky came the end of the heat wave. What replaced it was a cool calm, reminiscent of spring. It was a little bit later than usual for Hato to be here in Madarame's apartment, but Ogiue needed help with backgrounds for her serialized manga. Of course, as one of her paid assistants, it was part of his job to do it. Not that he minded it at all. It was fun talking and working with everyone.
Hato shook the thoughts out of his head. He needed to remove his make-up and change into his male clothes before it got too dark.
Still, it was kind of a waste.
He had gotten dressed up in a white coat that ended in a skirt. Combined with the blond wig that he was wearing, he wouldn't be surprised if someone said he looked like a snow princess today.
Though, of course, no such compliment like that had come his way.
It was a bit vain, but he still liked to hear those types of things, even though it was embarrassing to admit that.
Shaking the thought out of his head, Hato was about to head into the bathroom and change when he felt his sock stepping on something.
That was strange. Ever since he had started cleaning, there was not much garbage around, especially since Madarame had started becoming more organized. Today was an exception, but he had thought that he already saw everything that was out of place earlier.
Bending down, he picked up a flimsy Polaroid. It was slightly crinkled where he had stepped on it, but it was largely undamaged. Yet what startled him was the face that stared back at him. Saki.
"Why is this here?" It pained him a little to look at it, but the fact that it was here was strange in and of itself. Hato knew that Madarame hid them behind the shelf so why was such a precious treasure here?
He glanced around the room before his eyes fell on the box in the middle of the room. Or more specifically, the edges of another photo that was sticking out of one of the flaps.
Crouching down, Hato put his hand on the flap, his mind racked with indecision. This was wrong. He shouldn't be doing this.
Leave it alone.
His inner-Hato was right. Intruding on someone's privacy was breaking their trust, and he didn't want that between them. He should just clean up and go home.
But right now, he was a female, not a male. He couldn't let this go.
Before he even knew what he was doing, his hand flipped opened the flaps of the cardboard box. The photo slipped inward to finally come to a stop on clothing that had been stuffed inside.
"What's this?" Gently putting aside both photos, Hato raised the clothes from the box.
"This is…" Hato gasped. There was no denying what he was looking at. If the stylized white and blue battle uniform wasn't enough, the large yellow helmet and iron wrist bangles that sat behind in the box made it absolutely clear that it was a costume of the President of the Student Council. His eyes drifted to the photos lying on the desk.
"It looks exactly the same." For a reason that he didn't quite know, Hato was filled with bitterness. Madarame had kept the same costume that Saki once wore, maybe even for years. It was sad, but it tugged at him.
Hato sighed and was about to put it back when something changed his mind. He was going to be wearing something similar to this, so…
Madarame took a deep breath of the refreshing night air. He wanted a car, but it was times like these that he didn't mind walking. Being stuck in a building for hours at a time can make a person appreciate these types of moments. In his hand, he had a bag of beer cans along with a couple of bags of ingredients for his dinner. Most people had already gone home, but there were still several stragglers here and there, walking drearily as if they had spent the whole day working. Which they probably did.
He blinked when he saw the lights to his apartment were on. Well, this wouldn't be the first time that Hato stayed late. He put his hand on the door knob and blinked once again in surprise. It was unlocked. This wouldn't normally be an issue as Japan was safe enough, but Hato was a private person. It was understandable though; those kinds of hobbies would make a person secretive, after all.
He opened the door.
The bags fell from his hands with the beer cans hitting heavily against the floor. One of the cans fell out of the bag, rolling across the floor until it stopped at Hato's feet.
Hato bowed his head slightly, the large helmet nearly covering his eyes from sight. He had placed his hands together, the fake iron bangles around his wrists banging together, in front of the white and blue costume that fit him perfectly. There was no doubt in Madarame's mind that the person standing in the middle of the room fit the image of Ritsuko Kubel Kettenkrad nearly to the letter. The only difference was the shorter length of hair.
"I-I can explain!"
Madarame stared blankly. "Eh?"
"I-I-I opened the box, because I saw—"
Madarame laughed, making Hato stop and simply stare at the older man.
"Sorry, sorry." Madarame held his hands apologetically in front of him. "That costume is actually for you."
"Tanaka finished it last night and dropped it off. I was going to leave a note for you, but I was in a rush this morning," Madarame said.
A mixture of relief and excitement was visible on Hato's face. So it wasn't Saki's.
"How well does it fit?"
"It…it fits perfectly."
"That's good. Tanaka has a lot of experience, but he still sometimes makes mistakes." Madarame bent down and picked up the dropped bags. "It's getting late. Why don't I can cook dinner for both of us."
"N-no! That's okay." Hato waved his hands in front of him frantically before grabbing his backpack and heading to the door. "I need to get home."
"Wait, you aren't planning to go home like that, are you?"
"Ah-ah." Hato quickly changed direction and headed to the bathroom. "I'll only take a few minutes."
"Take as much time as you want," Madarame said with a smile. When the bathroom door shut, the smile slipped off his face as if it was never there.
He sighed. Bending down, he picked up the lone beer can that had escaped the bag. He was going to need this.
In the bathroom, Hato was taking off pieces of the costume one by one. It was a bit of time consuming process, but he didn't want to damage any of them. Just as he was about to take off the skirt, he noticed something in one of the pockets that were hidden within the folds. He took them out.
"When did this get here?" He must have stuffed them into his pocket when he was surprised by Madarame entering the apartment.
You should return it.
He crumpled up the photos and dropped them into the toilet. Without hesitation, he flushed it and watched the Polaroid's disappear down the drain.
Why did you do that?
Even to himself, it was a question he couldn't answer.
The weekend was finally here. For Hato, he almost wished it was next weekend, which was when the cosplay party was being held. He spread open the curtains, letting in the morning light. In the middle of his room was the box that contained the costume of the President. Since the box was too heavy, Madarame had carried it while he walked him home. He shouldn't have been happy about it, but he was.
Despite the day being Saturday, Hato had already applied make-up to his face and donned ample-length chestnut wig. Dressed in a simple sky-blue blouse and a knee-length white skirt, he was set for whatever the day brought.
Are you happy because of Madarame? Isn't this Mada x Hato? Oh, oh! Maybe it's Hato x Mada!
Even the disgusting thoughts of his female Inner-Hato couldn't ruin his happiness.
They aren't that bad.
Pulling open the window, Hato leaned outside and took a deep breath.
You're going to miss your appointment.
He looked down at his watch. It was almost ten o'clock. That gave him nearly two hours.
"I have time."
This time, his inner self was quiet.
Hato sat nervously at the table, shielded by the noon sun by an umbrella stuck in the center of it. There was a small cup filled with coffee, the black brew still steaming hot. He had taken a sip of it earlier, and while it did taste quite good, he refrained from drinking more. This bit of self restraint had never been necessary when he went out as a guy, but while in these female clothing, there was a whole new set of etiquette.
Even the simple act of drinking the entire cup might be taken as him being impatient. He definitely didn't want to seem rude.
Of course, there were a lot of freedom in what females could do, which would just get them labeled as tomboyish or such, but he didn't want to do this halfway. It just wasn't in his nature to not do his very best.
Where some people might have given up while trying to learn how to do make-up, coordinate their clothes, or train their voice, he had persisted.
Did that make him a perfectionist?
"Hato, sorry I'm late."
Hato blinked, his train of thought interrupted. Seeing Tanaka—dressed casually—in front of him, he quickly stood up from his chair and bowed.
"T-thank you for coming."
Tanaka chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck.
"I should be thanking you for inviting me." The bigger man took a seat at the table, flagging down a waiter. "A cup of coffee for me."
"You should order more. I'm paying for this meal so I want to make sure you're full," Hato said as he took his seat.
"No, no, I can't."
"Please. It's the least I can do since you made that costume for me."
Made? Tanaka would have narrowed his eyes a bit if they weren't already naturally squinting. He shook his head to get rid of the thought. He was being paranoid. Must have been simply a wrong wording.
"It's fine. I enjoy making cosplay."
"I can't do that." Hato shook his head. "I would feel bad for not doing something in return."
"If you really feel that way, then wear more of my cosplay in front of Ohno." Tanaka chuckled. "We would really appreciate that."
Hato blushed at the thought of some of the more embarrassing costumes but nodded his head.
"Thanks." Tanaka rose from his seat. "Anyways, I need to get going. I promised to take Ohno on a shopping trip in a couple of hours."
"But what about your coffee?"
"Ah." Tanaka reached into his back pocket to take out his wallet when Hato quickly shook his head and waved his hands frantically in front of him.
"No, no, I'll pay for it," Hato said, sighing with relief when Tanaka relented. "But you aren't going to drink it?"
"Nah, you can have it." Tanaka smiled. "It was nice meeting you outside of the group meetings for once."
Hato return the smile and nodded.
"I should have your costume finished in a couple of days. I should be able to spare some time to come by and drop it off. So I will see later," Tanaka said with a small wave of his hand as he turned around, completely missing the look of shock on Hato's face.
As Tanaka's form slowly disappeared into the crowd of midday pedestrians, Hato's eyes fell to the lukewarm cup of coffee before him.
"Miss." The waiter's voice and the tap on his shoulder shocked Hato out of his dazedness. "Are you alright?
"I-I'm fine," Hato replied shakily. "Why do you ask?"
"It's just that you have been staring at your cup for the last couple of hours. Some of our employees have expressed concern." The waiter was staring at him with a pitying look. "Would you like a complimentary slice of cheesecake? It's on the house."
"N-no, I'm fine." Hato's eyes fell down to the table. There was a cup of cold coffee in front of him, but there was another similar cold cup of coffee across the table from him. When had that gotten there?
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." Hato, wanting to change the topic, brought up his purse. "How much are the cups of coffee?"
The waiter shook his head.
"We'll take care of it. Are you sure you're alright? Perhaps we should call for a taxi. There might be some rain soon."
It wasn't until the waiter said it that Hato finally noticed it was much darker than usual. Looking down at his watch, he saw that it was still in the afternoon. It shouldn't be this dark. Taking a glance up at the sky, he saw dark rainclouds blotting out the sun.
"I'll be fine. Thank you for worrying about me." Hato rose from his seat and bowed to the waiter. "I'll be sure to come again."
With that said, he quickly turned and sped away before the waiter could respond. Only when he was a fair distance away did he finally slow down.
The crowds of pedestrians had shrunk, most seeking to hurry along their way before the downpour started.
Yet, when the drops fell on his face, Hato raised his head and welcomed the rain.
Madarame smiled when the ending credits appeared on his television screen. With a click of his remote, the television went black and the DVD player popped open, ejecting a disc from its tray. It was a satisfying end to the latest DVD he bought of an anime that was still being shown on certain channels.
He used to be able to stay up and watch anime like the hardcore otaku that he was, but nowadays, with his job, that simply wasn't possible anymore. It was only the weekends when he had enough free time to indulge in his hobbies so he now had to wait until the anime got released on DVD.
"I wonder if I can get some days off to go to the Comiket." The summer convention was coming up soon so he really didn't want to miss that. However, convincing his boss was going to be a pain. He supposed that he would just have to work harder to get more into his boss's favor. After all, didn't he get let off lightly after coming in with wrinkled suit just a few days before?
The sound of the doorbell brought him out of his thoughts.
Getting up from his seat, he walked over and opened the door. The sight that was standing before him made his jaw drop in shock.
"Hato? You're soaking wet! We have to get you out of these clothes before you get a cold." Madarame reached out to usher the crossdressed boy in. But his wrist was caught by an iron grip.
Before Madarame knew what was happening, he was on his back, his arms painfully pinned against his chest.
"Hato, what are you doing—"
"Why did you lie to me?" Hato's wet hair covered his face as he loomed over Madarame, his knees on either side of the fallen man.
"What are you talking?"
"Is it because I lied to you?" The hands that were pinning Madarame's arms tightened.
"Hato, calm down. I will cook you up some dinner and you can tell me what happened—"
"I saw it."
"The envelope. The pictures of Saki." Hato began shaking.
"The costume." Hato raised his head, the bangs separating so his face was finally showing. He stared into the eyes of the man beneath him. "You lied."
"Those weren't for me!" Hato's eyes filled with a swirl of emotions. "Those belonged to Saki!"
"That's…that's…" Madarame turned his eyes slightly to the side.
That was all the affirmation that Hato needed. Rising to his feet, he rushed back out into the rain.
But the shout fell only on the darkness outside his doorway. The quiet sounds of the rain only brought home his feelings of confusion and despair.
Hato ran through the rain. There were only the occasional pedestrian with an umbrella, but they quickly stepped out of his path, not wanting to get wet.
It was only when he was a fair distance away that he finally stopped, his lungs burning with exhaustion.
Hato backed up against a wall, his breath coming harshly. He was barely standing, his knees slightly bent, but he felt that if he were to fall now, he wouldn't get back up. The building's alcove above him protected him from the onslaught of the rain, instead replaced by the light of the outdoor lamp.
In this little world devoid of the clouds, rain still fell.
Hato didn't feel sick anymore. In fact, he felt much better today, after having to spend the last couple of days cooped up in bed. Yajima came by everyday to drop off some soup for him which was really nice of her, despite her usual complaining. He needed to thank her with something later.
Looking at the mirror, Hato found that his make-up was perfect.
He had to apply extra to cover up some unnecessary things. The eye-drops really did help to get rid of the redness in his eyes.
It's my fault.
It's fine. Hato smiled, but even he, from looking in the mirror, could see that it didn't reach his eyes. What stared back at him looked so fake that the smile quickly dropped from his lips. It was painful looking at such an obvious lie.
Please forgive me.
There's nothing to forgive.
Hato spun around once in a circle, spinning the dress he wore into a twirl. He wore a cream-colored one piece with fluffs that certain intervals that blossomed out like flowers. This was one of the most beautiful articles of clothing that he owned, and it felt appropriate to begin the start of everything with the best that he had.
Washing away the old and refreshing himself with a new beginning.
There was nothing to feel worried about, nothing to feel sad about, nothing to feel anxious about.
This was the way things should be.
The doorbell rang, bringing his thoughts to a halt.
"Coming!" Hato rushed over to the door and opened it. Standing just outside the threshold was Ohno, wearing her normal shirt and jeans. Said girl blinked when she caught sight of the crossdressed boy.
"Wow, you look beautiful for a sick person."
"A-ah, thank you." Hato blushed at the compliment.
"Tanaka is out front with the car. You should come out and check the costume before we bring it in."
"I'm sure it's fine."
Ohno shook her head.
"Even if he's my boyfriend, he still makes mistakes from time to time."
"I see…" Hato turned down his eyes as he remembered someone else who had said almost the same thing.
"Is something wrong?" Ohno looked worriedly at him.
"No, it's nothing." Hato shook his head. Deciding to change the topic, he quickly said, "Let's go see the costume."
Ohno brightened instantly.
"Yeah, it's over here."
Hato followed Ohno out to the front where the trunk of Tanaka's car was popped open. There were stacks of boxes, but only one of them had his name labeled on it. Tanaka, upon spotting the two, took that particular box out and opened up the flap. He was about to take out the costume when he froze.
"Hato, do you mind if I show you the costume here? I know some people don't like to show that kind of stuff in public."
Hato waved off Tanaka's concern.
"It's fine. I don't mind."
Tanaka nodded and pulled the costume out of the box, letting it unfold as he held it up. Hato couldn't help but notice the similarities to the one that he had gotten last week.
"I made sure that they correspond to your measurements, but you should tell me if it needs adjusting later," Tanaka said. "You will have to get the wig for the cosplay yourself since I don't know your measurements for that."
"Oh, I want to see it now!" Ohno was practically bouncing on her feet.
Tanaka laughed and handed the costume to Hato.
"You should just take a quick look at it for now."
Hato gratefully took the costume, making sure to handle it with care. The polyester of the costume against his fingertip was a smooth feeling. However, there was something strange.
"What's this?" Hato asked, pointing to a strange fabric that was inside the costume.
"Hm?" Tanaka took a closer look. "Oh, that. That's just padding for the breasts so you can better fit the image."
Padding? As Hato pressed his fingers against it, something clicked in his mind.
"P-please wait here!" Shoving the costume into Tanaka's surprised arms, Hato rushed into his apartment.
Taking out a box that he had hid in a corner of his cabinet, he opened the flaps and took out the costume. His eyes widened when his fingers found what he was looking for.
"There's padding here." There was no doubt what it was. It felt exactly the same as the padding on the other costume.
That doesn't make sense. Saki doesn't need padding.
Stuffing the costume back into the cardboard box, Hato picked up the box and rushed out to Tanaka and Ohno. Not caring about their surprised looks, he shoved the box in front of Tanaka.
"Did you make this?"
"Huh?" Tanaka picked up the costume from this box. After a moment of examining, he nodded. "I did, but I thought it was lost."
"Lost?" Hato quickly put the box down at his feet and rose again.
"Yeah, I made it for Madarame a month ago. He said he wanted to give it to you as a gift for keeping his apartment clean," Tanaka said, clearly confused. "But he told me that he lost it. I'm surprised you have it."
Before Tanaka could say anything more, Hato was off like a bullet.
"Hey Hato, wait!" Tanaka was about to give chase when he felt Ohno's hand on his arm. Looking at his girlfriend, he saw Ohno shake her head.
"We'll give the costumes to him later," Ohno said, staring in the direction that Hato ran off to.
Hato's pace slowed to a walk as he caught his breath. Even as tired as he was, he needed to go. He waded through the crowd of salarymen and casually-dressed pedestrians. The towering corporate buildings loomed over him, nearly overwhelming him with its oppressive feel. Why?
It represents the future. The one after University. The place where he is.
His heart fluttered and before he knew it, he was running through the crowd. Even as he was shoved and cursed, even as he stumbled and nearly fell, he kept running.
As he finally exited the other end of the crowd, it was as if a bubble burst. His feet carried him forward and he streaked across the concrete path. To either side of him were old, tired men and women, the results of the working world. Their enthusiasm sapped and their life a growing repetition. Hopes and dreams, faded to make way for something mechanical and cold; their feelings, reshaped into the normalcy that the world demanded.
I won't ever end up this way.
'This isn't what I want.'
This isn't the future that I want.
'I won't let it stand in my way.'
Why should it dictate what I want?
'Why should I let myself be swayed?'
I will make my own future.
'I will create my own fate!'
Those thoughts filled Hato as he ran. For once, his inner-Hato joined beside him, running with all her might.
As he ran, the worries and doubt drained from him.
As he ran, the sadness and anger fled from him.
As he ran, he knew of only one path.
The one that he chose.
The towering building that loomed before him represented that path. Dashing into the lobby, he stopped at the receptionist's desk, completely out of breath. Swallowing his saliva, he stared intensely at the female receptionist.
"Where is Madarame Harunobu?" Seeing that the receptionist was about to cut him off, Hato said, "It's an emergency."
The receptionist quickly typed in the name.
"He's on the third floor, but—wait! Miss, you can't go back there!"
Madarame sighed as he stuck another stack of papers into the copy machine. He had to copy these before the meeting begins, but there was still plenty of time. His notes were already compiled and he was already prepared to present his project before his boss so he wasn't too worried.
"I wonder if I can ask him for those days off for the Summer Comiket."
Hearing the sound of rapid footsteps, Madarame looked up.
"Huh?" Madarame blinked, recognizing who it was. Hato was wearing a dress that was absolutely stunning, and the sweat that made the fabric and the hair of the wig stick to his form only seemed to accentuate that beauty. "Hato, what are you doing here—"
Hato ran up and jumped towards the older man, his arms outstretched. Madarame barely had time to catch the younger boy before Hato embraced him and kissed him.
Hato knew. Even now, he knew, as he kissed Madarame, that it was only his selfish feelings. He loved Madarame, but it had taken a long time for him to accept those feelings. Madarame may not feel the same, but Hato was willing to be patient. He was willing to wait for Madarame to realize his own feelings.
He was willing to wait even if such feelings didn't exist—would never exist.
But when Hato felt his kiss being returned as rough hands pulled him closer, the world around them began to fade.
The gawking and cheering co-workers disappeared, leaving the two in their own world.
It was in this little world of their own making that Hato finally felt that everything was going to be alright.
Even if everyone else turned against them, they had each other.
That was enough.
~o~ End ~o~
A/N: This started out because of a friend who prompted me with this pairing. And I have a weakness for traps. Thanks for reading!